‘Top-up degrees’: How to turn your diploma to a full degree in just 1 year

top-up degree
A top-up degree offers the opportunity to build upon your knowledge and fast track your way to a bachelors. Source: AFP

A top-up degree is, as the name goes, a way to fill up your existing qualifications to get a full degree — and reap all the benefits that come with being a degree holder.

Pursuing one adds academic value and can be a smart financial move.

According to the UK government, those who opt for a top-up degree can save significantly compared to traditional three-year bachelor’s programmes.

On average, the tuition fees for a top-up degree are notably lower, making it a cost-effective option for those seeking to upgrade their qualifications without breaking the bank.

If that’s what you are looking for, here’s everything you need to know.

A top-up degree is an excellent opportunity for those who already hold a relevant qualification, such as a diploma or an associate degree, and wish to enhance their academic credentials further.

This specialised programme allows you to “top up” your existing qualifications to the level of a full bachelor’s degree.

For example, if you have a Higher National Diploma (HND) or an equivalent qualification, a top-up degree typically takes one or two years to complete, enabling you to earn a full bachelor’s degree in your chosen field.

These degrees have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their flexibility and efficiency.

According to the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), enrollment in top-up degree programmes has steadily risen, with a 15% increase in the past five years.

Many universities and colleges offer a variety of top-up programmes in areas such as business, computing and engineering, providing tailored pathways for those seeking to boost their career prospects and broaden their knowledge base. 

top-up degree

A top-up degree is a good way to gain a full undergraduate degree by combining previous certificates with a year of full-time study. Source: AFP

Save time, earn more: The many benefits of a top-up degree

A top-up degree has several benefits for your career and life.

As it’s a faster route to obtaining a full bachelor’s degree, you don’t have to spend three or four years to get a bachelor’s degree. 

The UK’s Office for Students found that students who opt for top-up degrees tend to complete their studies more swiftly than those pursuing traditional three-year bachelor’s programmes.

This means you won’t have to take too much time off work or family commitments.

This efficiency allows you to save time and transition smoothly into the job market with an upgraded qualification — which commands higher salaries.

Many studies have found that those with bachelor’s degrees generally have higher average earnings compared to those with lower-level qualifications.

In the UK, an individual with a bachelor’s degree made between 16,000 and 90,000 pounds.

The average income is just over 24,000 pounds — 10,000 pounds more than a non-graduate. And they’re more likely to be employed too.

UK’s 5 best top-up degrees to learn more and earn more

1. Business management 

With requirements typically including a relevant HND or equivalent qualification, this top-up degree stands out for its focus on practical skills and real-world applications.

Many universities, such as the University of Westminster, offer this programme, emphasising strategic management, leadership and entrepreneurship modules.

The UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency reports a growing demand for business graduates, making this degree an excellent option for those seeking enhanced employability.

According to 2021 Office for Students data, 75.2% of economics graduates go on to find graduate level jobs or further study 15 months after graduating.

top-up degree

Computer science top-up degrees will provide HND computing graduates with the opportunity to progress their study at an advanced level. Source: ETX

2. Computer science 

For aspiring IT professionals or those already working in the tech industry, a Computer Science top-up degree offers a fast-track route to a full bachelor’s qualification.

Usually open to those with an HND or equivalent, this programme stands out for its relevance to the ever-evolving tech landscape.

The University of Manchester, for example, provides a top-up programme that covers cutting-edge subjects like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. 

With so many tech layoffs this year, getting a top-up degree can reduce your chances of redundancy.

top-up degree

Top up your qualification to degree level with an engineering top-up degree. Source: AFP

3. Engineering

Pursuing an engineering top-up degree can be a game-changer if you have a foundation in engineering through an HND or related qualification.

Standout programmes, such as the one offered by the University of Surrey, often require a relevant engineering qualification and include industry placements and projects.

This hands-on approach enhances practical skills and prepares graduates for the demands of the engineering sector.

With the UK government’s focus on infrastructure development and innovation, research indicate a growing need for qualified engineers, making this top-up degree a wise investment in your future.

4. Marketing

Tailored for those with a marketing-related HND or equivalent qualification, a Marketing top-up degree provides specialised knowledge essential for success in the competitive marketing and advertising world.

Programmes like the one offered at the University of Birmingham stand out for their industry connections and emphasis on digital marketing strategies.

The marketing industry’s reliance on digital platforms and data-driven approaches makes this degree particularly relevant.

As businesses increasingly prioritise digital marketing, there’s a rising demand for professionals with comprehensive marketing skills, positioning graduates for rewarding career opportunities.

top-up degree

You can improve your job prospects without going back to university for three years. Source: AFP

5. Psychology 

This is an ideal choice for those fascinated by the human mind and behaviour.

Typically requiring a relevant qualification, this programme, such as the one at the University of Essex, is known for its research-intensive curriculum and focus on contemporary psychological theories.

With mental health awareness gaining prominence, the demand for qualified psychologists is on the rise.

With an increasing need for mental health professionals, this top-up degree can be a meaningful and impactful choice for those interested in contributing to the well-being of individuals and communities.